10 Minutes to Total Body Engagement
We’re all short on time. So when you’re doing at-home workouts it’s important to make each exercise really count. Here are 4 exercises that engage your whole body in just seconds. The key to doing them correctly, to protect yourself against injury, and build functional strength? Alignment and awareness. Going harder, going longer, or doing more reps isn’t always the answer. Build yourself up. Don’t beat yourself up. Listen to your body.
Reps: 1 to 3 sets of 4-8 reps.
The key points? Begin lying on your back, with legs bent, knees facing the ceiling. Gently support your head and neck. Nod your chin to begin the movement. Keep your pelvis neutral and mind the ribs. Don’t try to come off the floor, you’re just learning to engage the abdominals and the transverse abdominus to build deep strength. Proper form creates functional strength that will keep your neck and back healthy. There are some keys components of form that many people miss.
1. Gently support your neck and head. The hands should be used as a hammock to assist in supporting the weight of the head with the abdominals, rather than the hands bearing all of the weight. Focus on using the abdominals to lift the weight of the head.
2. Lengthen the back of the neck & nod your head. Before lifting the head from the floor, lengthen the back of the neck like you’re giving yourself a slight double chin. The eyes should gaze towards knees, allowing the chin to be slightly tucked (not jammed). Looking straight up at the ceiling will place unnecessary tension on the neck.
3. Keep a neutral pelvis. A neutral pelvis is imperative for optimal ab engagement. Allow your lower back to keep its natural curve.
4. Control the ribs. The abdominals connect the ribs to the pelvis. When you’re laying flat on the mat, be sure your ribs are touching the mat underneath you, not popped or distended towards the ceiling. As you flex your upper body off the floor, work to draw the ribs towards the pelvis with the abdominals. Then as you lower back to the floor work against gravity to control the lengthening of the distance between rib and hips.
Target areas: abdominals, glutes, hamstrings, shoulder girdle, back
Time: Hold for 10 seconds to 1 minute depending on your strength and alignment. Start small and build up.
See 4 Steps to Build the Perfect Plank to really get this one down. Hold your plank as long as you can without compromising your form. Modify by lowering the knees or standing and using the wall as a “floor”. It’s called a plank for a reason. Focus on creating one straight line from heels → hips→ shoulders → head. Don’t let the hips sag (which pulls on lower back) or raise (which takes the work out of the abs). Avoid rounding, pinching, or sagging in the shoulders and shoulder blades. Lastly, don’t let that head drop. Your head is heavy! Look at the floor between your hands.
Reps: 1 to 3 sets of 4-8 reps.
Begin on your back with your legs bent, knees facing the ceiling, in neutral pelvis (there should be a small space between the floor and your lower back). Pressing your feet into the floor, engaging your glutes and hamstrings, begin to lift your pelvis off the floor towards the ceiling maintaining a neutral pelvis. Focus on keeping the hips elevated, while softening the sternum into the floor, keeping the ribs from popping. You should feel your obliques working to keep both sides of the pelvis level. You can modify the bridge by taking the hips lower, squeezing a ball between the knees, or hovering one foot off the floor with the hips raised.
Target areas: all 4 layers of abdominals
Reps: 5-10 reps of breathing in for 5 counts and out for 5 counts.
Famous for a reason, this Pilates staple will get you sweating and shaking in no time. Remember, it’s not useful unless you’ve engaged all four layers of the abdominals including the transverse abdominus. The full exercise starts with the upper torso flexed, imprinted pelvis, legs extended out, scapula stabilized, and arms long at the sides. Then, begin pumping the arms, inhaling for 5 counts then exhaling for 5 counts, for ten sets which equals 100.
The Hundred works all four layers of abdominal muscles to stabilize and flex the spine. It also builds endurance which is necessary to hold the flexed position. Be sure to maintain the imprinted position to protect the lower back. And be sure the abdominals stay flat, ensuring the deepest layer of abdominals are working.
But what if you don’t quite have the stamina for the full hundred? Build it over time by working through these modifications.
1. Keep the Feet on the Mat. With your feet on the mat, practice holding the torso flexed up and the coordination of the arms and breath.
2. Use a Hand Towel to Support Neck. Place a hand towel under the shoulders and head. Hold the corners of the towel in your hands. In the flexed up position, use the towel to support your head like it’s in a hammock.
3. Try Legs in Table Top. Lift the legs to table top position (90-degrees at the knee and hip).
4. Five Counts Table Top, Five Counts Legs Extended. Exhale for five counts while reaching the legs out to a diagonal. On the inhale, bend the legs back into table top position.